I recently visited a park I hadn’t been to before in Albuquerque, and there, off the beaten path, I met an old grandmother Cottonwood.
She was glowing in the evening sun, her leaves bright gold and glittering in the gentle October breeze. She stood beside an acequia at the corner of the park. She must have been several hundred years old, her trunk looking like many cottonwood trees all molded together. One long arm curved downward, several feet from the ground, and then curved back up again, to form a perfect swing.
A little cottontail rabbit hopped quietly between us as I stood there for a moment, in awe. I found myself being drawn into her, the way a big mother draws a tired child into her arms. As I touched her bark, my heart met her and I was overcome with tears of relief. Comfort I did not even know I was longing for surrounded me like a medicine blanket as I hugged her huge, gently swaying arm. I could sense so many of the babies she had swung in this arm of hers, all of the life she had seen and helped nurture. This tree was medicine.
I climbed up into her branches, the grooves of her bark forming deep hand and foot holds that made this seem so natural and welcomed. She held me and shared stories with me under her warm blanket until I was ready to leave.
I emerged back into the bustle of the public park, feeling like I had discovered a very powerful and mysterious secret. I found another old tree- an elm- and spent some time with him too. I began looking for the eldest in all the tree stands I came across, and I found myself realizing that I long to live in a world filled with old trees. Where every tree under the sun is allowed to know one of its own elders. Is allowed to become an elder, if it is in the will of Nature for it to be one.
Old trees are by their very nature healers and wisdom keepers.
Living records of everything that has transpired during their vast lifetimes.
They hold the secrets to survival.
All we have to do is let them live on, and listen to them from time to time.
I couldn’t help but to think of my own elders, and remember that they are medicine people too. Just by the nature of their record keeping, of their deep roots, and by the number of babies they have swung in their arms. I regret that I didn’t spend more time in the arms of my grandparents, or by their sides listening to the stories they had to share. And I pray to be surrounded more and more by wise elders who can help me learn how to, with God’s grace, become one myself.
Summer in Southern Oregon was just as beautiful as I had imagined it might be. Sunny and warm during the day, with crisp, clear nights that glowed with stars. It felt like heaven on earth. And then the smoke rolled in.
Sometimes it would just last a day or two, and other times it seemed to hang around for weeks.
Even though the locals were expecting it, it affected everyone- leaving us foggy headed and lethargic, with a sense of general uneasiness, reminding us that the world was burning.
Towards the end of my stay on the farm the smoke cleared up and by the time October rolled around, bringing the Fall rains, the threat was over and the grass was green again, the clouds were rolling in, and the mosses were plumping up and coming back to life too.
The smoke made me thankful for every clear day we had. For every mountain peak I could see, and for every beam of sunshine that broke through the trees and fell across my face.
As I enter back into city life after living in southern Oregon paradise for a season, I’m reminded of the smoke, and the effort it took to see through it. To know there is a gorgeous landscape all around me, it’s just being obscured temporarily. I feel that way in the city almost always- like I’m living in a ceaseless smoke season. I know that all around me exists heaven on earth- right here where I am, wherever I am- but often there are things that obscure it and cause me to forget.
Artificial light doesn’t make the stars disappear- it just creates a veil that keeps us from seeing them clearly. The sounds of the birds, the river, the winds, still flow through the landscape- they’re just covered up by the noise of the highways- those rivers of human hurry.
Our ancestors still whisper to us in the ethers, encouraging and guiding us on our journey- but often we don’t hear them through the drone of our technology and the chatter of our minds.
I am convinced that our self generated distance from Nature is at the root of our illness as a society and as individuals. Luckily, health (and heaven) is still here, waiting for us, behind the layers of debris created by our own forgetting. All we have to do is remember it. And as we remember it, it will come back into focus, and we will change the way we are living to accommodate its reflourishing.
As I settle back into life in a city- with so many layers- I will strive to appreciate and attend to every piece of paradise that I perceive- even if I can only see the outline of it.
For the past ten weeks, I've been working on a regenerative farm in Southern Oregon. It's been an amazing experience, rich in learning and growth. I wrote the following passage after my first day of working in the field- and I'm at peace with the harvest process now- but still felt like I should share.
The first day of farm work felt like an initiation. Our small group harvested about 1800 pounds of tulsi. Scoop, slash, scoop, slash- down the rows we went. Leaving short stubs of tulsi bushes in our wake.
The farmers are good people and the operation is one that is done in all the right ways- no herbicides or pesticides are used- plenty of biodiversity exists within all the planting fields and the land truly does feel vibrant and happy- but this felt violent to me.
I had been introduced to tulsi as a Devi- literally a goddess- and I’ve always felt that way about her- so to “harvest” her like this just felt wrong. But my role here is as a farm worker and I knew I had to play that role- so I did. My conscience and my body were both very sore at the end of the day. And as I sat down for meditation that evening, I saw tulsi behind my eyelids and I felt her coursing through my body. I allowed the energy of tulsi to touch every cell and every channel within me and I felt its healing power regenerating my aching back. Tears came to my eyes as I heard her whisper to me “Don’t worry dear one. You can’t hurt me.” And a renewed sense of awareness revealed all the people who would be helped by the work we did that day and all the medicine that would be made.
It's a fine line between making a profit and keeping things sacred, and I'm looking forward to learning more about how to walk it.